Resilience. Empathy. Emotional intelligence.
Amid the prevalence of an ‘always-on’ culture, online communication doesn't fully capture the quality of interactions at work. How well we engage with one another entails mastery of what makes us human: our emotions.
While technical skills are fundamental to a rewarding career, experts are also pointing to "people skills" – competencies that rely on mental, emotional and psychosocial processes.
Despite appearing "less tangible", people skills underpin success in the modern workplace. They create six times more impact than hard skills or technical knowledge when it comes to job success, according to the National Soft Skills Association in the US.
In fact, a study by I/O psychologist Dr Travis Bradberry on 42,000 workers found that 90% of the top performers across industries exhibit high emotional intelligence – and they often transform this soft skill advantage into an economic benefit.
High EQ workers tend to earn US$29,000 more than those who have yet to develop emotional intelligence.
More people today are also craving better soft skills to deal with life and work in uncertain times, particularly skills that develop mental fortitude and endurance.
Anxiety management courses, for example, witnessed a 4,000% increase in demand at the height of the pandemic last year. Among healthcare workers, that demand is even greater at 5,400%. Courses on resilience, meanwhile, grew more popular among learners by 1,300%.
All this suggests that the pressures of modern work can be unnerving for many of us. Add to that the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout have sparked a global mental health crisis.
Soft skills – particularly emotional intelligence, resilience and empathy – drive at the heart of our humanity at work and prove the case for humanising our workplaces.
These competencies have given rise to movements towards greater diversity, equity and inclusion, greater employee well-being, and even a healthier relationship with technology.
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But how can modern workers develop their aptitude for navigating complex emotions in equally complex environments – and how can employers support them?
"Leaders need to role-model [the attitudes and behaviours]," said Andrew Newmark, Regional VP - Human Resources, Marriott International.
Part of leading conversations on how to bounce back is "demonstrating vulnerability" and "making it safe (for employees) to try new things, make mistakes and learn," he said.
"Like other organisations, we have focused heavily on our communications. A key element of our communications has been storytelling, and I feel this is critical to building a resilient culture.
"Stories are what our people connect with and represent what our culture is about. Stories of adapting to the crisis, taking care of our customers and associates, and innovating and finding new revenue streams during these difficult times."
Even in today's remote work environment, top performers excel at communicating "virtual empathy," a concept championed by Chai Ping Chua, HR Director and Country Site Leader, Experian.
"We continue to have virtual training sessions, especially for our leaders and managers, so that they can continue to build critical skills (e.g. virtual empathy) to help employees tide through this very difficult period," she said.
To guide employees in a time of adversity and emotional complexity, Experian recalled lessons of the past.
"We relied on some muscle memory of our collective and our senior leaders who have seen 9/11, SARS and the Asian Financial Crisis to help us through COVID; so that lessons learnt can be reused and revisited this time," she said.
Learnings from the COVID-19 crisis will likely remain beyond the pandemic, so improving people's daily habits now – such as knowing how and when to unplug and unwind – will prove critical to thriving in a high-pressure digital work environment, advised Jessica Scott, Director of the PowerED programme at the Athabasca University in Canada.
"Executives across the country are facing new challenges – communicating in real-time with a remote workforce, driving productivity while balancing health concerns, and leading employees who are facing unprecedented levels of burnout, stress, and anxiety," Scott said.
In other words, modern workers are simultaneously "plugged in" and "tuned out" from the world around them.
"The shift to remote work has accelerated interest in optimising digital habits. Today, 83% of employees are looking to their employers for guidance in navigating the pressures of remote work. Yet many employers feel ill-equipped to deal with these new pressures," Scott said.
An integral part of managing emotional and mental health is promoting digital wellness alongside them.
"As employers anticipate the Great Resignation, leaders need to upskill their employees to deal with modern pressures. We don't need work-life balance – we need work-life-technology balance," Scott said.
By arming employees with tools, tips, awareness and hacks to reclaim a sense of well-being and establish a healthier relationship with technology, organisations can create a more engaged and emotionally balanced workforce.